While waiting for my taxi brousse to fill up in Tanna there was a lovely French couple who sat down next to me and gave me a good introduction to life in Madagascar. They introduced me to their friends at a bar, who were going on a three day canoeing trip the day after. When I asked if I could join they simply made a call to their guide an it was arranged! I even got to sleep in their friends garden, and then we met again, ready for the trip the next afternoon.
The morning was spent exploring Antsirabe which has the reputation for being a smaller version of the Malagasy capital Antananarivo, or “Tanna” as everyone call it.
There were lots of old, colonial style buildings like the old train station which was now only operating with cargo transport to the capital. I also got to see a cock fight which apparently is a big thing here. People bet millions of Ariarys and even their houses, hoping that their cock will be the last one standing.
The group of Frenchies who I would spend the next week with
It was not before midnight that my new French travel group would arrive Mindrivazo, where our three day canoe trip to Belo-Tsiribihina would start.
Although Andasibe is only 140kilometers from Antananarivo, it took me a full day to get there. First off it was hard to find a local company going there and when I finally found a taxi brousse (local bus) it took six (yes SIX!) hours for it to get full so that we could leave. I have never waited as long for a bus to fill up, but once we were on our way it went super fast and did not take long before they dropped me off at the junction of Andasibe, because that is really what Andasibe is, a junction.
I checkes in at the cheapest guesthouse called “Marie’s” where I met a local guide who said he could take me on a night safari the same night. After some negotiation we agreed on a price of 3 dollars for two hours and we’re on our way walking in the forest nearby. It amazed me to see how many animals that could be seen just a short walk from my guesthouse! In the two hours we managed to see mouse lemurs, dwarf lemurs, boa constrictors, chameleons, praying mantises and stick animals. I couldn’t wait to see what was possible to see in the daytime and agreed to come with him the next day as well into a private park called V.O.I M.M.A costing 12 dollars including his salary as my guide for three hours. The guide assured me that the rest of the money would go to the community and maintenance of the park which I was also very happy to hear.
An idri watching us from the treetop. Their shoutings were super loud!
On our day safari we watched families of Idris shouting loudly at each other marking their territories, we saw chameleons, birds, brown lemurs and lots of interesting bugs. The guide was really the best spotter I have come across on my safaris and I’ll never forget the smile he gave me after receiving a five dollar tip at the end of the day. It might sound little, but apparently that was a quarter of a monthly wage here in Madagascar.
People often think of Nairobi as a dirty and crowded city, which it is better just to leave as soon as you have the chance. Myself I just had a day there, stopping by mainly to get money that I could change at the blue market in Ethiopia and Sudan.
Sure Nairobi has its mess, but what is fascinating is that it at the same place as a dirty street can have a brand new skyscraper. You will find old churches next to a cell phone vendor street full of neon signs and you can find small mosques hidden between narrow streets. If you strap up a pair of good shoes and walk around for a day you will see the small things that make the city more interesting, like a blind man playing his harmonica, local buses that have been decorated and pimped after movies and sports teams and businessmen in suits walking next to street kids in their rags.
Chicago Bulls bus with horns on the top
Nairobi has sights too! The Karen Blixen Museum, national museum and the railway museum, exotic meat restaurant “carnivore” and a place called safari walk which is a mix of a zoo and a national park, just 10kms outside the city.
My favorite spot was on the top of the Norwegian designed K.I.C.C Tower, which is one of the tallest buildings in Nairobi. For just 3$ you could take the elevator all the way up to 27th floor and climb from there to the top of the building the get a view from its helicopter landing pad. There was also a museum explaining everything from the history of Kenya to its sports, music and culture.
Hawassa was the perfect place to break up the nearly 800km trip from Addis Ababa to Omo Valley. The city is on a lake where one can go on boat trips to spot hippos or just relax with a picnic among wild monkeys like we did.
Hawassa is also a great base for day trips to the nearby hot springs and Shashamane. We went to a naturally heated pool in Sodere which was great, and cheap coating less than 1$! After trying to teach my couchsurfing host how to swim he showed us the way to the mountain where we could see where the hot water was coming from.
We also stopped for a couple of hours in Shashamane where weed was legal and the Rastafarian culture was alive. The museum was closed and the free galleries that could be visited there were full of touts who tried to charge us entrance fees and guide fees. We would have left with a really bad impression of Shashamane if it wasn’t for Ras Hailu Tefari (Bandu) from St.Vincent and his gallery of art which was made completely out of dried banana leaves. He gave us some fruit salad and told us explained to us in proper Caribbean English how he was growing everything he needed in his garden and how he possibly made his art. A true character who I will never forget.
Traveling around Omo Valley is not cheap. In order to go to the villages you need to rent a car with a driver which costs upwards of 50$. As we had already visited a couple of villages we did not feel the need to go to a Mursi village like we first had planned, but decided that it would bend enough visiting the tribal market in Jinka in hope of seeing some Mursi people there, which we did.
Hammer and Banna people, who can be recognized by the women’s mud covered hair and the men’s punk like hair. Also lots of the women went topless and the men carrying their traditional chairs
The Mursi people would often have gauges in their ears and stretched lower lips to fit disks. The rumors had it that that they would steal and some times be violent to tourists after drinking too much, but the ones we met at the market in Jinka seemed all very peaceful.
From our visits in Omo Valley, Konso was maybe not the most tribal, but still one of the most interesting to visit.
Konso is the name of the city which the 44 villages are situated around, but it is also the name of the tribe living there. The Konso people typically build their villages on top of the mountains, with views to spot potential intruders. The entrances of the villages all have circular wooden huts where young men would sleep and keep guard.
The reason why the Konso villages are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites is that they were built around 1200 years ago, and the fundaments of the houses and corridors in the village have been remaining unchanged. The villages have maze-like corridors which were fun to walk, especially with a flock of hundred kids following us curiously.
In the village we got to try local beers made of Sorghum, maize and honey. We were also explained how the men would have to go through tests of strength by lifting round rocks and throwing them behind their necks to prove that they were ready for marriage. Surprisingly enough I managed to throw the rocks over my shoulders which meant that I too was ready for marriage, but then I was told that I would also need to have some cows and goats to give to the family of my future wife so I guess I will have to wait some more years for that.
Other than the villages, and the farms where we were explained how maize, khat, coffee and chili was produced there was not much to see in Konso, so we were soon on our way to Kay Afar where we would spend the night.
It was time for the highlight of our South Omo Valley trip- the wedding ceremony of whipping girls and jumping bulls. We had spent the day at the Turmi marked seeing Hammer handicrafts and people in traditional clothing(just some leather clots, not covering much!) and been prepared of what was to come.
The Hammer marriage ceremony took place around a 3km walk from the village and started off with women being whipped until we would see their raw flesh dripping with blood. All of them with a intense euphoric look in their eyes, blowing horns and shouting in rhythm.
Apparently these women were friends and family of the groom who, in this way, wanted to show how far they were willing to go for the soon to be bride.
The test if the groom was to jump over some bulls ranging from small calfs to fully grown ones. After jumping over all of them four times the groom had proven himself ready for marriage and the whole group of people would walk for many kilometers to their village where the party would go on.
Before the bull jumping, the groom sits down, gets face painted and given a new name to be called by
The bull jumping ceremony is one of my rawest tribal experiences and I have already decided to come back to Southern Omo Valley to learn more about traditions and cultures of these tribes.